Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, so there’s a close kinship between the popular Ford Escape sport utility vehicle and the related Mazda Tribute. Both SUVs were introduced for the 2001 model year and upgraded for 2005. When comparing the two SUVs, there are subtle styling differences, unique interior features in each and different suspension tuning.
Serving as the sportier member of the pair, the car-based Tribute attracts considerable interest even if its sales lag well behind the Escape’s. Both models compete against the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
New Tribute i and s trim levels replace the previous DX, LX and ES for 2005. A new 2.3-liter four-cylinder in i models produces 153 horsepower, versus 130 hp in the prior version. For the first time, four-cylinder models can be equipped with an automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available, but the Tribute and Escape aren’t considered true offroad machines. Mazda says the new Active Torque Control Coupling four-wheel-drive system reacts faster than a hydraulic unit.
The Tribute has the same overall shape as the Escape but features unique exterior trim and a different grille and headlamps that were redesigned for 2005. Both SUVs exhibit a conventional small-SUV profile, with similar dimensions. A new rear fascia features vertical taillights, and redesigned alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. The rear liftgate has flip-up glass.
Tributes ride a 103.1-inch wheelbase and measure 174.4 inches long overall. Standing 69.9 inches tall when the roof rails are counted, the four-door Tribute has a fully independent suspension.
The Tribute carries five people on twin bucket seats up front and a three-place, 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Tributes now have a floor-mounted gearshift rather than a column lever. The standard 100-watt CD stereo is Sirius Satellite Radio-ready. Leather upholstery, heated front seats and side mirrors, and a power driver’s seat are optional.
Under the Hood
Tribute i models get a new 153-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. A 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 goes into s models. The four-cylinder teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission or a five-speed manual, while the V-6 is available only with the automatic. Tributes may be equipped with front-wheel drive or a new four-wheel-drive system that engages automatically but has no low-range gearing.
Antilock brakes are standard and have electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Side curtain-type airbags are optional on s models.
In its previous form, the Tribute drew mixed reactions, but its sporty nature earned high marks. Tributes are quieter than they used to be, and energetic V-6 throttle response is satisfying. Automatic-transmission shifts are barely noticeable, and downshifts for passing and merging come swiftly.
The Tribute steers with a somewhat light touch and handles adeptly. Occasionally, a floating sensation makes the driver feel less than fully connected to the highway.
Ride comfort is pleasing, but wavy pavement produces substantial up-and-down motion. The Tribute exhibits no raucous behavior and copes handily with bumps and holes.
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